Friday, April 24, 2009


Lord of the Rings: Online was only my fourth EmEmOhArPeGuh, and, only the second I took really seriously.

To give an idea of how serious, I played LOTRO in:
  1. Closed Beta 2
  2. Open Beta
  3. Preorder
  4. Launch
Unfortunately, in that time, I committed one of the major blunders that most EmEmOhArPeGuh run into: burnout. By the time of launch, I'd been just about everywhere, and seen just about everything.

The game is gorgeous, and, more to the point, it always felt like Turbine really got Middle Earth, with all of its rich history and diverse cultures. From walking into Bree and the Inn of the Prancing Pony to viewing the Hobbits in Hobbington, Turbine's loving treatment of the universe made the game that much more enjoyable.

Not to say that the game is flawless, but it is a clean, easy to get into game that isn't quite as newbie friendly as WoW, but it certainly provides a more engrossing PvE experience.

So, when I saw that the Mines of Moria expansion was dropped, I was intrigued, but, I really couldn't afford the time or money to play. Don't get me wrong, the idea of putting together a longsword Adaneth Bario (look up the Sindarin) and exploring the Delve known as Moria would be a treat, but with the work hours I was keeping, and being a devoted father, spending the time needed to get that far into the game just wasn't an option.

Well, now that I spend most evenings home alone once Max is down to bed, I've got a couple of hours to kill most evenings.

So, I broke down and purchased the expansion, and once again, LOTR:O has sucked me in. All it does now is make me want to make an MMO...

What's wrong with me?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

So...I'm playing Left4Dead again...

I was an early adopter of the game, and much like TF2, I'd gotten myself burned out on it.

I had purchased both with the understanding that Valve would release sufficient content drops to make the purchases worthwhile. In TF2, that was certainly the case.

Left4Dead, not so much. The game consisted of approx. 10 multiplayer maps, and 20 cooperative & single player maps. That sounds like a lot, but, in multiplayer, a full 'campaign' takes about an hour or so to play. Further, because the campaign is pretty linear, it didn't take long for experienced players to quickly realize what you should and shouldn't do, and where you should and shouldn't go as both Survivor and Undead.

Ultimately, it got repetitive. Not to say that wiping out the survivors didn't get less sweet, rather, it got more so - you knew the strategy for survival, it was always a question of breaking the survivors out of their plan.

So, two things happened:
1) I started playing the game again with former co-workers (to which I'm called 'The Lucky One') and it is a hoot when you are playing the game with people you know. The enjoyment factor is much much higher.
2) The release date for the new content was announced, which caused Point 1.

So, I've been enjoying Left4Dead again. Now, if they finally get the SDK released, like they said they would, the possibilities for awesomeness will only increase.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hello, Old Friend...

Let me put on my Internet Nerd Hat for the moment and make a confession:

Yes, I play in a PBeM RPG. I've played in one, off and on, since the mid to late 1990's.

And in that time and within those games, I've had the opportunity to work with a variety of different people. Sadly enough, I find that with my participation in these games, I've found my writing ability and, more importantly, writing discipline has greatly benefited from my participation over the years.

I write for myself, by and large, to keep my creative writing skills up - and since I am trying to focus now more on content design and game writing than system design, I find the process a really fun way to keep my skills up.

Friends have come and gone through these games, and most I have lost contact with while I continue to write.

However, of late, I've been able to work again with an old friend. We'd lost contact, or, at least, extremely inconsistent contact for the last few years. We'd worked together for...six or seven years. We have had a strong friendship, and definitely have a kindred intellect and creativity.

So, it's been wonderful to work together again, even if it is for our own benefit and enjoyment.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thoughts on the Wii

Alright, so, there's this large elephant in the video game room. It has sold like crazy, so, as a result, all of the publishers need to address it. We're talking about the Nintendo Wii, of course, and with it, all of the baggage associated with it.

In the spirit of that large elephant, I have the sneaking suspicion that the gaming press are hoping that the system will be something that it isn't: a mainstream gaming machine that appeals to the broader hardcore market.

We're all aware at how grossly underpowered the Wii is when compared to her current generation siblings. We're also well aware that there have been some games that have come out on the Wii (Resident Evil 4, the Metroid and Zelda games, and the latest, MadWorld) that purport to cater to the hardcore gamer. While RE4 and the latest Zelda were clearly developed on or for the previous platform (Gamecube/PS2), and Metroid was created by an internal development team, we only have MadWorld as the one, true, independent, hardcore targeted title for the Wii until The Conduit drops.

Which leaves me wondering: what part of the Wii audience are really hardcore gamers? I ask this as a serious question, because when I look at the vast majority of games out there, it reads like an inverse bell curve: you've got casual, older gamers on one side, and you've got kids on the other, with the hardcore, early-adopters stuck squarely in a blackhole of suck in the middle.

So, why make hardcore games for the Wii? They are already going to be at a pretty severe disadvantage in terms of graphical and even technical (memory) capabilities. The base control scheme, reliant upon a somewhat foggy, and typically requires a great deal of flailing about like an idiot. While that might fly in party games where laughing at your friends is required, trying to get into a game like...dunno...Mass Effect if I have to waggle that Wii-mote to perform combat...

...ugh...what makes the Wii so special? Can someone explain it? Please?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Narrative Has Its Place

As a Game Designer, the use of narrative in games always intrigues me, and after reading some of Steve Gaynor's articles on immersion and invisibility, and it has got me thinking...

Alright, I suppose I am a bit of a maverick - I don't really have a problem with a forced narrative that creates a memorable experience, because that creates a very important bridge between the three very important groups that plays games: the hardcore gamer, the hip gamer, and the casual gamer.

Now, let me quantify those terms:

The Hardcore Gamer
: is what you expect what you hear the term "Gamer" - these are the men, women, and children who are early adopters of technology, who want the cutting edge, and who demand a lot out of their entertainment dollar. They read all of the reviews, and tell all of their friends which games are fun, and which are not. The vast majority of Game Designers definitely fall into this category.

The Hip Gamer: is a nebulous description, but this is a group of gamers that is influenced heavily by the Hardcore Gamers in terms of game purchases. They read the reviews, but tend to be more circumspect about what they purchase, relying on friends, blogs, reviews, and the like to drive their game purchases.

The Casual Gamer: is the largest market of gaming. Casual Gamers play everything from simple card games that come preloaded on PCs (Solitaire anyone?), to party Games. This is the market most difficult to target a game toward, and not just because it is the largest, most diverse market. Casual Gamers don't purchase many games per year, and really don't keep up with the industry unless it makes mainstream news outlets, yet represent the largest potential market in gaming.

Now, looking at some of Steve's concerns on immersion, these are all outstanding and very valid points that are reasoned out extremely well. But, and I'm sure we could have a spirited discussion on it, I don't believe that completely abdicating authorial control is a positive thing, and that memorable moments in games can be highly scripted, narrow and focused.

A narrow, tightly focused experience - a great example being Call of Duty 4 or Half Life 2 (along with its episodic content) - may be passe for Game Design Theorists, but it is at the heart of bridging the gap between the Hardcore, the Hip and the Casual gamers. These focused games, the very antithesis of open-worlds and letting the player create their own moments rather than sharing in the moments authored by design, give one very important tool to those that don't always play games: direction.

Hip Gamers and Casual Gamers, those that maybe purchase one or two games per month, look for a guided experience and crave direction. My Wife, the antithesis of a gamer, loved Half Life and Half Life 2 because of their level structure and episodic feel of the story and, more importantly, always knew that there was a path - somewhere - leading her to the next encounter. The game was a line, from A to B, and she knew that if she worked hard enough, that she could reach the end.

Conversely, when she watched my play GTA IV (the only one in the series I actually enjoyed, but explaining that would take up a whole post in and of itself), she kept asking me: "Where are you going?" Followed up with "Why?"

That is something very important that I think a lot of theorists (myself included, for what it is worth), being a part of the industry and therefore on the cutting edge, need to understand: We need to make games for them as much, if not more, than we make games for us. What has made game narrative so...bad, by and as much a function of the game development process as it is who has been entrusted to write the games.

The games with the best narrative, open or focused, have had writers work on them during preproduction, production and right up until content lock. The best companies treat the Narrative and Story as another system that must be planned, created, trimmed, polished and refined along with everything else in the game, and also appreciate that the more a Game Designer has to spend working on everything but the story, the weaker and less engaging the story becomes.